Genitalia doesn’t determine gender identity, trans activist insists despite court ruling

File picture shows supporters of transgender rights group Justice for Sisters outside the Court of Appeal after the court declared Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah law unconstitutional in November 2014. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
File picture shows supporters of transgender rights group Justice for Sisters outside the Court of Appeal after the court declared Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah law unconstitutional in November 2014. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — The sexual organs of an individual should not determine his or her gender identity, a transgender activist said today after a transwoman failed to get court recognition of a gender change.

S. Thilaga, a Justice For Sisters activist, said there is a difference between an individual’s sex or biological condition and the gender he or she identifies with.

“Gender is not decided by your genitals. Gender is determined by how you feel.

“And your life cannot be dictated by your genitals and [it cannot] cost someone their happiness and wellbeing,” the activist told reporters here.

Thilaga had attended and observed a court session this afternoon, where the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed Vasudevan Ramoo’s application for a declaration that he is now a female after having gone through a sex reassignment surgery.

In applying a 2013 Court of Appeal decision that adopted the position in UK cases, High Court judge Datuk Asmabi Mohamad said Vasudevan had to fulfil the test of four factors – chromosomal, gonadal, genital and psychological.

But noting that Vasudevan’s two medical reports that did not show certain medical procedures including vaginoplasty, Asmabi ruled there was insufficient evidence for the court to determine that he is now a female.

Asmabi also quoted the UK case of Bellinger v Bellinger in 2003, where House of Lords judge Lord Nicholls Birkenhead said that “individuals cannot choose for themselves whether they wish to be known or treated as male or female”.

“Self-definition is not acceptable. That would make nonsense of the underlying biological basis of the distinction,” Asmabi quoted the UK judge as saying in the case.

But Thilaga argued that the “best practice” in various countries such as Argentina, Denmark, Malta is the policy of self-determination.

“The best practices right now is people don’t have to be subjected to these intrusive processes. You and I don’t have to go through the process to show our genitals, to go through chromosomal tests,” Thilaga said.

The activist noted that Vasudevan had already presented medical reports on a sex reassignment surgery and a physical examination, adding that requirements to have it affirmed would make it “a lot more difficult for transgender people to live their lives the way they want to and to live happily”.

In today’s case, 25-year-old Vasudevan had applied in July 2014 for two court orders, including a declaration from the court that he had undergone a gender reassignment surgery and is now a female.

Vasudevan also wanted an order directing the National Registration Department director for a name change to Maha Lakshmi Ramoo in the identity card and a change in the card’s last four digits to an even number to reflect her new gender status as a female.

In three similar court cases in Malaysia against the NRD in recent years, transwomen Kristie Chan and Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, transman Wong Chiou Yong failed in their bid to have their new gender status recognised in their identity cards.

In a rare decision in the 2005 case of JG v National Registration Department director, Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Justice James Foong ruled that the applicant be declared as a female and ordered the NRD to change the identity card’s last digit to reflect the gender status change.

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